According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 6,000 military veterans die by way of suicide every year. That’s a terribly troubling statistic, but in relative terms, the news has been somewhat encouraging given that the average number of veteran suicide deaths has been declining slightly over the past two years. Does that mean that the overall state of veterans’ mental health is improving? That’s a difficult conclusion to draw, particularly in the wake of recent news regarding the number of calls people are making to the Veterans Crisis Line.
According to NBC News, the number of phone calls and other forms of contact to the Veterans Crisis Line surged in March. This would indicate that instead of what seemed like a hopeful trend, it’s possible that veterans’ mental health is once again faced with an intensifying crisis. SoCal Empowered has been working with veterans and non-veterans since we opened our doors, and below our team of Orange County mental health professionals would like to discuss this report in hopes that we can help someone, even one person, find help before it’s too late.
Details of the Veterans Crisis Line Data Report
The NBC News reporting stated that in the month of March alone, the Veterans Crisis Line received more than 88,000 phone calls, text messages and chat requests. This number constitutes the highest volume of contact attempts since the crisis line came about in 2007. Specifically, 88,000 contacts represents a significant jump from the previous three years of March data:
- March 2020 – 67,500 contacts
- March 2021 – 67,000 contacts
- March 2022 – 74,000 contacts
Aside from the slight drop in veteran suicides mentioned above, the overall number of contacts rose by more than 30 percent in three years. While that could be seen as a positive in that more people are getting help, it also indicates that the state of veterans’ mental health is at a crisis level. Finally, the overall transition to the national 988 suicide number and the awareness campaign behind it may have also contributed to the increase in contacts.
Update: Based on a more recent report, it seems that veterans’ mental health continues to be a very difficult and pressing problem. 2023 is not turning out to be a good year for veterans who are struggling with any number of conditions. Despite everyone’s best efforts and positive feelings and thoughts, it’s sadly clear that there is still much to be done when it comes to this issue.
How Does 988 Work?
Last year, the new 988 suicide prevention number came about, and it serves as an outreach option for all people who are having suicidal thoughts as well as their loved ones. In order to promote efficiency, the Veterans Crisis Line was folded into the 988 resource. These days, those who would fall into the category of struggling with veterans’ mental health can dial 988 and then press 1 to speak to a trained staff member who will help the caller through the situation.
Veterans or their loved ones can also reach out via chat (VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat) or by texting 838255. Those who would prefer to call the older phone number can do so by dialing 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1. Trained staff members are available on a 24/7 basis, and veterans who make contact will speak to someone who is specifically trained on the military and its culture.
Veterans’ Mental Health Problems: Warning Signs of Suicidal Ideation
As mentioned above, thousands of veterans commit suicide every year. The general rate of suicide for those currently or once associated with the military is higher than that of the general public. Given that extremely troubling reality, a small part of successfully dealing with veterans’ mental health challenges is recognizing the warning signs of suicidal ideation.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, or the NIMH, there are several different ways in which people can experience and even display warning signs of suicide. A few examples of each appear below.
- Wanting to die
- Feeling intense guilt and/or shame
- Feeling like a burden to others
- Emptiness, hopelessness, having no reason to continue living
- Sadness, rage, anxiety
- Intolerable emotional and/or physical pain
- Planning or at least researching ways to die
- Withdrawing from relationships
- Giving belongings away
- Becoming comfortable with taking extreme risks
- Extreme mood swings
- Changes in diet
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Increased use of substances such as drugs or alcohol
Unfortunately, there is no one set of warning signs that send a clear signal that someone is considering suicide. Everyone is different, which means that suicidal ideation will manifest in different ways in almost every situation.
What could make all the difference, however, is if you know someone and you either see any of these warning signs or you simply feel in your gut that something is very wrong and then do something about it. When it comes to loved ones, trusting your instincts may be a very good idea. As mentioned, there’s no reason that you can’t contact the Veterans Crisis Line if your loved one is a veteran and you’re concerned about his or her situation.
How SoCal Empowered Can Help
If you’re one of the many people affected by the growing and serious problem that is veterans’ mental health, you should not wait to take action. Every day is vital, so reach out to the Veterans Crisis Line and/or feel free to contact our team of Orange County mental health professionals.
We have worked with veterans and civilians alike, and we understand the nature of military service and the toll it can take on the brave people that serve our country. We are also an in-network mental health provider with TriWest Healthcare Alliance, an organization that’s been working to promote and protect the health needs – mental and physical – of military members and their loved ones for over a generation.
That means that if you contact us and we both feel that a stay with us is a good idea, there is very little in the way of ambiguity when it comes to insurance coverage benefits. Even if you have other coverage, you should still feel free to contact us for answers to your questions. We’re here to help, whether that involves us working with you or helping you find the right resource for your situation.